Music- Heavenly or Haram?

Some Muslims believe that music is haram– forbidden. They say it distracts a person from prayer and remembrance of Allah. Music hypnotizes, takes one away from ordinary reality. A Muslim could  be distracted from prayer by the delight of listening to  music; this seems true. On that basis, music probably qualifies as an intoxicating substance, except that it is not ingested by the usual route. Its effects include physiological changes, yet it never enters the body in a concrete way, in the same manner as drugs or alcohol, and it never becomes truly addictive in the way that drugs and alcohol become addictive. What a mystery! Must we leave it alone, and toss it  into the bin of sensual pleasures labeled “Haram”?

Frankly, I never spent much time trying to believe that music is haram. That’s not possible, and now I know why. Appreciation of music is hard-wired into the human brain. I learned this from my grandkids, who are on the cusp of their Terrible Twos. Music delights them, relaxes them, and teaches them.  My little grandson phones me every day, and wants me to sing to him, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”  Americans may remember that song from youth, and if you recognize it, I’ll bet you are smiling! If I could figure out how to insert it into this post, I would do so.

I won’t cite Qur’an verses or Sunnah regarding the matter of music; anyone who reads my blog knows where to look for supporting evidence in either direction.

I missed music —  listening to it and making it — during my years in Riyadh.  I was a pianist in my youth, and later picked up classical guitar, but I had to leave that behind when I moved. Mornings, while doing housework and cooking, I would listen to Radio Riyadh, which aired insipid re-makes and elevator music from the United States. I enjoyed every note.

More than once, I wondered whether my love of reciting the Qur’an grew out of my love for music more than love for Islam. I confess, the beautiful recitations of popular reciters sounded quite melodious.  My favorite reciter at the time, Ahmed al Ajami, was criticized for “‘singing,” rather than reciting, the Qur’an. Indeed, his melodious voice drew me closer and closer to the Qur’an and its message.

In contrast, I used to fall out of bed in the morning, nearly dead of a heart attack because  the muazzin in the mosque across the street  used to belt out the azzan as loudly and as harshly as he could. In spite of protests from the surrounding residents, he insisted upon calling a most grating azzan, raspy and booming. He wanted to make sure everyone in the neighborhood woke for Fajr. Everyone did.

One of my dear friends in Riyadh loved music, too, and listened to it freely, without restraint. The difference between us was that she believed music was haram, and I did not. She would say, “Astaghfirullah,” after telling me about a song she’d grown to like, but then she’d chuckle and admit that she could not keep away from this “sin”.

I wonder where she is now, and I wonder whether she still regards music as haram.  I’m back in the States, listening to all kinds of music, and getting distracted from prayer by far more insidious influences than music.